School Officials Nix Gay Article
Teen Writers say Principal Refused to allow Story about Homosexual Students to be Printed in School Newspaper
[HOUSTON, TX] - The school year may be over, but student journalists at Hastings High School in Houston still are stinging from what they say is a violation of their First Amendment rights in reference to an article about gay teens.
David Rosen, assistant editor of Bear Facts, the HHS student newspaper, and Christina Tran, associate editor of the publication, co-wrote an article about gay students. But Rosen said HHS Coordinating Principal David Holmquist refused to allow the story to be printed.
"We do have prior review at Hastings High School: If the principal doesn't like anything [in Bear Facts], he cuts it out," explained Rosen, 16, who will be a senior at HHS next year.
Dianne Smith, HHS journalism teacher and adviser for Bear Facts, said the students made their own decision to protest the administration's stance on the article.
"Being an employee of the district, when they tell me that something is censored, all I can do is follow district policy," Smith said.
Rosen and Tran interviewed several gay and lesbian teenagers about the hardships they face because of their sexual orientation. The resulting article examines those struggles through stories told firsthand by those teens.
According to Rosen, the article was censored because it discussed homosexuality.
"The article was well written. The fact that there's any outrage over it proves that the district's homophobic," he said. "This is just a blatant and flagrant violation of our First Amendment rights, even though we are a student publication.
"They say that they gave us the option to rewrite it, but we never got that option," Rosen added.
Despite repeated attempts, Holmquist could not be reached for comment by press time.
Sue Null, secretary for the local PFLAG (Parents, Friends & Family of Lesbians & Gays) chapter, said she talked to Holmquist about the issue.
"He said.that basically there were a number of considerations, which he did not go into, that he pondered before making his very difficult decision not to allow the article to be printed," Null said.
The school year is over and classes are out at HHS for the summer. Graduation was held May 29. Tran was among graduating seniors at the school.
"It surprised me," Tran said of the administration's refusal to allow the article to be printed. "I think it's the topic. They said it's too controversial for Alief.
"I think the students at Alief are pretty open minded," she added. "I think they just were worried about if parents would have reacted badly, which I don't think they would have."
Houston's ABC13 Eyewitness News published a piece on the controversy, including a Web site link for viewers to read the censored article.
"The school administration decided the article was not written well enough to appear in the student newspaper and told the editor it needed to be rewritten," according to ABC13.
Rosen said the article allowed gay students to speak directly.
"We let them tell their own story; we didn't take a perspective on it," Rosen said.
The proposed newspaper edition that the students took to Holmquist also included a column about AIDS and abstinence for teens; a feature story about AIDS; and a cover story about sexual harassment, which did not discuss or mention homosexuality, Rosen said. The latter quoted both male and female students about sexual harassment, he added.
But according to Rosen, Holmquist saw all of those articles as being gay-themed.
"He's like, `I don't like this: You have four stories relating to homosexuality,'" Rosen said. "I could see possibly where he thinks the AIDS story related to homosexuality.possibly.but the sexual harassment was way out of line."
Holmquist also asked that the names of the gay students be changed, according to Rosen, even though the writers had written permission from both the teens and their parents for their names to be used in the story.
"He told us to change the names," Rosen said. "We're willing to make little compromises to get the story in."
But even when the young journalists changed the names at the administration's request, the article still was deemed unacceptable.
"I was pretty appalled and pretty offended because I, like a lot of people out there, have homosexual family members," Rosen said this week. "This guy is obviously very ignorant about the subject."
The principal also asked that the words "nigger" and "fag" be taken out of the story, and the writers complied.
But Rosen said he does not understand that request, since a previous article in Bear Facts used the word "nigger" several times. He said the article about gay teens used that word by way of explaining that it is taboo, while students calling someone a "fag" is commonplace.
"We had a whole story about the word `nigger' in the issue before this, and nobody objected to it," Rosen said. "So this is out of the blue; there's a double standard. We're allowed to talk about discrimination against blacks but not against homosexuals."
As proposed to HHS administrators, the article was titled "I love differently," with a subtitle of "Gay and lesbian teenagers speak out about stereotypes they face, abuse they receive daily, their struggles with faith and coming out."
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